Demand from hundreds of extra patients led to long waiting times and 'critical incident' at Wigan Infirmary's A&E

New data reveals the huge demand for care at Wigan Infirmary’s A&E unit last month, which led to hospital bosses declaring a “critical incident”.
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People were urged to stay away from the casualty department unless their condition was limb or life-threatening, after A&E became “full” as attendances increased and there were delays with discharging patients who were well enough to go home.

The “critical incident” ended after a few days, but bosses at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) said the unit continued to be very busy over the Christmas period and into 2023.

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Wigan InfirmaryWigan Infirmary
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NHS England has now published its monthly data looking at the performance of A&E departments across the country and it shows just how much demand Wigan’s hospitals faced.

How busy was Wigan Infirmary’s A&E department?

During December there were 8,551 attendances at the casualty unit, up six per cent from 8,062 in November and 9.7 per cent higher than the 7,795 attendances in December 2021.

A further 5,077 people went to Leigh Walk-In Centre for care last month, which was up from 4,467 in November (13.7 per cent) and 4,014 in December 2021 (26.5 per cent).

Deputy chief executive Mary FlemingDeputy chief executive Mary Fleming
Deputy chief executive Mary Fleming

The national target is for 95 per cent of patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours of arrival – though hospitals across the country have struggled to meet that for some time.

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Wigan’s A&E unit saw just 44.6 per cent of patients in four hours in December, down from 46 per cent in November and 50.8 per cent in the same month the year before.

The performance of the whole trust rose to 64.2 per cent when the walk-in centre was included, where 97.3 per cent of people were seen on time.

There were a total of 2,765 emergency admissions to the trust in December, up 6.8 per cent from 2,588 in November and 10.1 per cent from 2,512 in December 2021.

Problems with bed-blocking in other parts of the hospitals meant that once the decision to admit was made, 1,495 patients waited more than four hours for a bed and 259 waited for more than 12 hours. In November, 1,336 people waited more than four hours and 199 waited more than 12 hours.

What do trust bosses have to say?

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Deputy chief executive Mary Fleming said: “WWL continues to face extraordinary pressures on our urgent and emergency care system, just like many NHS organisations up and down the country. This has unfortunately led to patients experiencing significantly longer waits in our emergency department (A&E).

“In the face of these pressures, our staff have worked tirelessly to treat patients as quickly as possible, and I would like to thank them for their continued efforts, and the people of the Wigan borough for their co-operation. This was demonstrated during the recent critical incident where teams from across the trust came together to tackle the extreme pressures head on and continued to provide the best care possible for our local community even in such challenging times.

“In addition to this, our discharge teams are continuing to help patients and families to make sure the transition back to their home is as safe as possible and that patients have the right support in place. By being on hand to collect your loved ones as soon as they’re well enough to return to their normal place of residence. you can help to alleviate some of the pressures we have faced of late.

“We are however urging people to continue to use our NHS services appropriately. If your condition is not life or limb-threatening, visit NHS 111 online in the first instance, contact your GP, contact a local pharmacy for advice or visit an urgent treatment centre, like the one we have in Leigh.”

What is happening at other hospitals in England?

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The data shows the proportion of patients seen within four hours in England’s A&Es fell to a record low of 65 per cent in December – the worst performance on record.

A record 54,532 people waited more than 12 hours in A&E departments last month from a decision to admit to actually being admitted, while 170,283 people waited for more than four hours.

Longer waits in A&E departments will mean more patient deaths, the vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned.

Prof Ian Higginson told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “For every 82 patients who wait more than six hours in an emergency department, there is one associated death. So, if more patients are waiting longer in emergency departments there will be more associated deaths.”

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Prof Higginson warned that tackling the issue would require sustained long-term investment.

“There are no easy, quick fixes to what we are seeing now. We need to acknowledge there is a problem, we need to acknowledge the scale of it,” he said

“This is going to take long-term investment, long-term solutions. We can’t short-term our way out of this particular problem.”

Downing Street declined to say how long A&E waits have to get before the Government calls it a crisis.

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The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “I think the public would want us to take action on this rather than focus on the definitions.

“I think no-one has any doubt about the huge pressure our NHS is under. It’s why we are acting right now, and indeed it’s why we invested significant sums in advance of this winter to mitigate some of these pressures.”